1 month ago

UAH scientists are part of first discovery of giant neutron star flare outside Milky Way

The first-time discovery of a giant flare from a neutron star that’s outside Earth’s galactic neighborhood is the subject of a new research paper in the journal Nature that has four co-authors from the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), a part of the University of Alabama System.

“This is the first time we could claim, without a doubt, a giant flare from outside of our galactic neighborhood,” says co-author Dr. Peter Veres, a research scientist at UAH’s Center for Space Plasma and Aeronomic Research (CSPAR).

Only three such giant flares have been detected since satellites have observed the gamma-ray sky. All three are nearby by space standards. Two are located in the Milky Way and one in the neighboring Large Magellanic Cloud galaxy.

Video of the unique magnetar outburst can be seen at https://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/13751.

The find was made by the Gamma-ray Burst Monitor (GBM), an instrument aboard the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope with 12 low-energy sensors and two high-energy sensors. The bulk of the study is based on GBM data with additional measurements from the Burst Alert Telescope instrument aboard the Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory’s Swift Gamma-Ray Burst Mission satellite and some radio observations.

Early in this decade UAH developed GBM’s performance requirements and its ground and flight software. Dr. Michael Briggs, CSPAR assistant director and senior principal research scientist, is the deputy principal investigator for the Fermi GBM. The instrument was built through a collaboration between UAH, NASA and the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany.

At UAH’s Cramer Research Hall, the university’s scientists regularly monitor the data from GBM together with colleagues from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC), the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) and the Max Planck Institute. The principal investigator for the Nature paper is Oliver Roberts of USRA, headquartered in Maryland. The UAH co-authors are Dr. Veres; Dr. Briggs, who this year won NASA’s Exceptional Public Achievement Medal in part for his GBM work; Dr. Narayana Bhat, a CSPAR research scientist; and Rachel Hamburg, a UAH graduate research assistant (GRA).

Co-authors are from nine universities and also include UAH alumnae Dr. Colleen Wilson-Hodge of MSFC, who is the principal investigator for Fermi GBM, as well as authors from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.

The giant flare was observed as a short burst of gamma-rays by the GBM instrument on April 15, Dr. Veres says.

“Neutron stars are very compact, city size objects with mass that is somewhat larger than the mass of the sun,” Dr. Veres says. “These flaring neutron stars have extra strong magnetic fields and also go by the name magnetars.”

Giant flares are also very bright, he says.

“The three known flares were all so bright that every instrument observing them was blinded by the huge number of gamma-rays.”

Because the photons from those earlier discoveries were arriving faster than the instruments could count them, Dr. Veres says that even though scientists know how a giant flare looks in broad terms, measuring their detailed properties was elusive.

“Now, with the observation of this giant flare, we can see details of the event that were not possible to discern before,” he says. “The picture we have for this giant flare is that the magnetic field became strong enough to produce cracks in the neutron star.”

As a result, an energetic jet was released and hurtled toward the GBM instrument at very high speed.

“For the first time we were able to determine the speed, which turns out to be very close to the speed of light,” Dr. Veres says. “Through all of this the magnetar should be rotating and we also find signs of this rotation. We don’t know exactly how fast, but a good estimate is once every eight seconds – that is consistent with our observations and interpretation.”

Even at such a large distance, the giant flare was bright enough that it caused problems in a small segment of the GBM data.

“We overcame this issue by using data from the BAT and patched up this short part,” Dr. Veres says.

The entire event was unusually short, lasting less than two-tenths of a second. “For me, the outstanding result is that we observed even shorter variations, about 1/10,000th of a second,” Dr. Veres says. “This is a record among cosmic gamma-ray flash sources. The variations tell us about the size of the object responsible for the emission and point to a neutron star origin.”

The UAH research team contributed data analysis, mitigation of instrumental effects and data interpretation. Dr. Briggs and Dr. Bhat used their expertise with GBM to show where the data needed correction. Dr. Veres analyzed the spectrum, calculated the total energy involved and worked on interpreting the findings. Hamburg, the GRA, put the event in context of other observations from GBM to show it was unlikely to be a gamma-ray burst.

Research for the new discovery was funded by NASA and the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the data is another feather in the cap for the 12-year-old Fermi satellite and its GBM, which launched in 2008 as a mission with a five-year lifespan.

“The Fermi mission was designed for five years at first and extendable for five more years,” says Dr. Bhat, a recipient of MSFC’s Golden Eagle Award in 2018 for quickly restoring GBM to operation after it was turned off when the Fermi spacecraft had an anomaly.

“GBM is now more than 12-years old and I am happy to say that it is working flawlessly,” Dr. Bhat says. “There are several reasons for it to function well even now, and maybe even 10 more years, perhaps.”

First, GBM doesn’t have consumables on board that could run out and limit its life, he says. Second, the detectors were well designed and fabricated by the German scientists from the Max Planck Institute per the mission requirements. Third, the onboard electronics were designed, fabricated and well tested in the U.S.

“Recently there was some scare about a couple of detectors that were overheating,” Dr. Bhat says. “Then we carried out an elaborate high-temperature stability test in our laboratory and demonstrated that there is no danger to the detectors functioning at those temperatures. As a result, it is no surprise that GBM is functioning well and will remain healthy for a long time to come.”

Scientific discoveries from GBM data have brought national and international recognition to its team of researchers, including the 2018 Rossi Prize from the High Energy Astrophysics Division of the American Astronomical Society. The Rossi Prize is awarded annually in honor of Italian physicist Bruno Rossi for a significant contribution to High Energy Astrophysics, with particular emphasis on recent original work.

GBM’s high detection rate for gamma ray bursts led to a joint science and observation partnership with the Laser Interferometer Gravity Wave Observatory (LIGO) group that first observed gravitational waves. The LIGO partnership resulted in GBM becoming a major player in multi-messenger astrophysics.

(Courtesy of UAH)

1 hour ago

Rep. Jerry Carl introduces bill to prevent bureaucrats from removing, altering certain historical monuments

Congressman Jerry Carl (AL-01) on Monday filed his first-ever piece of legislation, titled “The American Heritage Protection Act of 2021.”

The Republican freshman representative from Mobile noted that his bill comes after the D.C. Facilities and Commemorative Expressions Working Group (DCFACES) last fall recommended 150 sites in our nation’s capital be either removed, contextualized or have their name changed. Sites specifically under fire include the Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial, Woodrow Wilson High School and the fountain at Chevy Chase Circle.

Other historical figures with listed buildings or monuments included Alexander Graham Bell, Benjamin Franklin, Francis Scott Key, George Mason, Andrew Jackson and Christopher Columbus.

“Today, I was proud to introduce the American Heritage Protection Act of 2021, which protects our nation’s history from being erased or altered based on the whims of government bureaucrats,” said Carl in a statement.


Carl’s bill would explicitly prohibit the U.S. Department of Interior from changing the names, removing or altering the following monuments in D.C.: the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial and Theodore Roosevelt Island.

Additionally, the legislation would prevent Interior from removing or altering statues related to the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 or Civil War battlefields under its purview.

“While many people wish to erase or rewrite our history, I believe the best path forward involves learning from our complex history and avoiding judgment of historical figures based on today’s standards,” the Coastal Alabama congressman concluded. “If we erase or rewrite our history, we are unable to learn and grow from our past. I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join me in this endeavor so we as Americans can engage in honest, accurate, and unifying discussions that enable us to move forward as one nation.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

1 hour ago

What Alabamians need to know about the latest activity on Goat Hill — March 2, 2021

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Legislature on Tuesday will convene for the 10th day of its 2021 regular session.

There is also one committee meeting scheduled for the day, as well as one subcommittee meeting.

Read about what occurred last Thursday on the ninth legislative day here.


Looking ahead

The Alabama Senate will gavel in at 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday.

This will come after the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee meets at 1:00 p.m. The committee’s agenda includes four election-related bills; especially of note, SB 235 sponsored by Sen. Dan Roberts (R-Mountain Brook) would ban curbside voting in Alabama. Curbside voting is not provided for in Alabama law, however it is also not explicitly barred at this time.

The committee is further scheduled to take up SB 259 by Sen. Will Barfoot (R-Pike Road) that would allow the legislature to call itself into a special session. The provisions of the bill would require a joint proclamation by the Senate pro tem and the House speaker to call a special session; a resolution carrying the support of 2/3 of each chamber would then have to be adopted before business could be taken up in such a special session. The bill was officially introduced last week on the first legislative day following Governor Kay Ivey’s “herd of turtles” remarks. Between Barfoot and 16 cosponsors, the bill already has the support of an effective majority of the Senate, which only has a maximum of 32 members in attendance so far this session. SB 259 is a companion bill to Rep. Becky Nordgren’s (R-Gadsden) HB 21, which was prefiled back in October. Her bill is set to be considered in a House committee on Wednesday.

The House will convene at 1:00 p.m. on Tuesday. Before that, the County and Municipal Government Committee’s Government Service Subcommittee will meet at 11:00 a.m. On that docket is SB 107 by Sen. Chris Elliot (R-Daphne).

The lower chamber’s floor action is set to focus on a 16-bill special order calendar, which can be viewed here.

Included on that calendar is Rep. Jamie Kiel’s (R-Russellville) HB 103, which would effectively erase the distinction between “essential” and “non-essential” businesses during a pandemic or other declared emergency.

Also slated for consideration is Rep. Scott Stadthagen’s (R-Hartselle) HB 391; this bill would mandate that public school students can only compete in athletic competitions aligning with the gender on their birth certificates.

Another notable bill on the House special order calendar is Rep. Paul Lee’s (R-Dothan) HB 249. This legislation would cap a health insurance beneficiary’s cost-sharing or co-pay for an insulin drug prescription at $100 per 30-day supply.

Observers may also be interested to know that Rep. Jeremy Gray’s (D-Opelika) HB 246 is on the calendar; this is the bill that would allow yoga to be offered in public K-12 schools.

Finally, Rep. Mike Jones (R-Andalusia) HB 392 is set to be considered. This bill would create a formal layer of legislative oversight — and additional transparency — on executive branch contracts, leases and agreements exceeding $10 million.

“It is important that we maintain a system of checks and balances, and the Legislature must be able to access important information about agreements that obligate the General Fund to substantial expenditures,” Jones said in a Monday statement. “This bill provides an additional layer of oversight on large executive branch agreements in a manner that is fair, transparent, and, most of all, constitutional.”

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) stated that he supports the bill.

“Whenever an administration enters into agreements involving millions of taxpayer dollars, the Legislature deserves to have its questions answered and any concerns addressed,” McCutcheon said. “Rep. Jones’s legislation offers a commonsense method of protecting taxpayers and reassuring lawmakers when large sums of dollars are being obligated.”

While it could pertain to items similar to Governor Ivey’s prison plan in the future, the legislation would not be retroactive and would not apply to current contracts, leases and other obligations.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

LISTEN: Actor Robert Ri’chard previews upcoming faith-based movie ‘My Brother’s Keeper’

Robert Ri’chard grew up in South Central Los Angeles in a very challenging environment. He had to make disciplined choices at an early age that would help determine his future and get him to where he is today.

Robert, an actor, entertainer, entrepreneur and mentor, lives with purpose every day.

In this episode, we discuss the choices we all need to make each day to become who God calls us to be. We also talk about the upcoming movie he c0-stars in which will be coming out this month, “My Brother’s Keeper.” The movie deals with the struggles of PTSD and how God can help people overcome it. TC Stallings stars as a veteran returning from war and trying to reestablish a life back home. Robert plays his best friend, Donnie, and the two struggle to maintain their relationship after division arises between the two of them. The film also features Keisha Knight Pulliam and Joey Lawrence.

This is a great faith-based movie that is good for the whole family. Check local listings and online for viewing options starting March 19.

14 hours ago

William Bell officially launches campaign to retake Birmingham mayor’s office

Former Birmingham Mayor William Bell officially launched on Monday his campaign to take back the office he held from 2010 through 2017.

Bell, 71, was prevented from earning a third term in office when Randall Woodfin, then-president of the Birmingham City School Board, beat him at the ballot box in 2017.

In his nearly three-minute video announcement released Monday, Bell listed several serious problems he felt Birmingham was facing, including violence in neighborhoods and poorly managed finances.

“Clearly, we need an experienced hand to get us back on track,” Bell intones.


Though he never mentions Woodfin by name, Bell does not shy away from criticizing the man who ousted him in 2017.

“Four years of ineptitude and mismanagement has our city hurting and adrift,” Bell says in the video.

“The stakes are just too high for the current mayor to learn on the job. He is in over his head, and it shows,” continues Bell.

The announcement video includes images of Bell shaking hands with former President Barack Obama and President Joe Biden, two popular figures within the Democratic Party to which Bell belongs.

Other figures who have previously entered the Birmingham mayor’s race include Jefferson County Commissioner Lashunda Scales and businessman Chris Woods.

Woodfin has built a sizeable fundraising advantage over the three candidates seeking to unseat him, reporting over $1,000,000 cash on hand in his 2020 year-end finance report.

Bell’s campaign website, with information on his priorities for the city, can be accessed here.

Magic City residents head to the polls on Tuesday, August 24.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

14 hours ago

Watch: U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville delivers maiden floor speech

U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) on Monday delivered his maiden speech on the floor of the United States Senate.

In his remarks, which spanned more than seven minutes, the freshman senator thanked the people of Alabama for sending him to Washington, D.C., spoke about his background as an educator and mentor, and emphasized that he looks forward to serving as Alabama’s voice as the people’s senator.

“In the end, I asked the people of Alabama to trust me with the responsibility of representing them here in Washington,” he said. “And they did. It’s humbling. It’s an opportunity to serve my country that I respect, cherish and will always honor. My staff and I will work hard every day to live up to that trust.”


Continuing his emphasis on and passion for education, Tuberville subsequently remarked, “One thing I’ve learned, is that education is the key to freedom — freedom to live the life you want. I’ve seen firsthand how education can give you a leg up and a way out. It’s a way to achieve the American Dream. When we empower our young people with a quality education, we give them the gift of an opportunity — the greatest gift our country can give our citizens. And what I’ve found as a coach is that when people are given an opportunity to better themselves, they usually take it.”

He also outlined the following about education:

I found that we are failing our young people by not providing the quality education they deserve. It is not about money. It is about people. It is about what we value and what we each. Improving education in this country should be one of, if not the, top priorities we have. That is why I am proud to be a new member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

On the HELP committee, we need to work together – as a team – to do three things: first, we need to recognize that parents and teachers know how to best educate our young people in their community because we’re all different… We do not need a one-size-fits all education curriculum. What works in San Francisco will not necessarily work in Scottsboro, Alabama.

Second, we should recognize that education takes many forms. Not every student in America needs to go to a four-year college or university. To ensure our country remains competitive in the 21st century, we need to promote STEM education to those students who have an interest in math and science. But, to remain strong, this country also needs welders, plumbers, nurses, equipment operators, electricians, and craftsmen. These jobs have excellent pay and great futures.

If the Democrats want to pass a massive infrastructure bill, they need to first ask: ‘who’s going to build it?’ That’s why I’ll be looking for any opportunity to support career technical programs that prepare a skilled workforce.

And number three: we’ve got to start teaching our young people moral values again. That starts with putting God and prayer back in schools.

Watch Tuberville’s entire maiden floor speech here or below:

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn